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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The many ways LeBron James can score

The Los Angeles Lakers star’s game has evolved over the past 20 years, making him a threat from all over the court — no matter how old he gets.

By Sean Catangui and Leo Dominguez

LeBron James has broken Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record, 38,387 points. To get here, he adapted to a rapid and radical shift of playing style that transformed the game he had already learned to dominate.

NBA teams shoot nearly twice as many 3-pointers as they did when James began his career in 2003. They focus less on big men who score near the rim, like Abdul-Jabbar, than on fast players who can shoot from afar. James can do both.

Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record was a testament to the sustained effectiveness of the sky hook, a highly technical shot that only he mastered. James, in a testament to adaptability, dethroned Abdul-Jabbar by scoring in all kinds of ways and learning new skills as the game changed around him.

The drive

The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted James at No. 1 overall when he was 18 and just a few months too late to face off against Michael Jordan, who retired for good after the 2002-03 season. They were often compared to each other, and James quickly showed why with forceful drives to the rim and fluid midair contortions in the Jordan template.

At first glance, it may seem as if James can drive so effectively because he is simply faster and stronger than everyone. And at 6 feet, 9 inches tall and 250 pounds, he generally is. He has drawn comparisons to football players with the way he flies down the lane. (He did play football in high school.) But in addition to his speed and strength, he has the footwork and tight ball-handling skills to change directions in an instant. This devastating combination has made him one of the league’s top scorers at the rim throughout his career.

James’ game had its limitations early on, however. In James’ first appearance in the NBA Finals, with the Cavaliers in 2007, the San Antonio Spurs clogged the driving lanes, exploiting his subpar outside shooting. The Spurs swept the series, 4-0. James averaged just 22 points a game and missed about two-thirds of his shots.

In time, he got better.

The post

Four years later, after losing in the NBA Finals again, this time with the Miami Heat, James took it upon himself to expand his offensive repertoire. During the 2011 offseason, he started working with another scoring legend, Hakeem Olajuwon, who was known for his balletic footwork in the post.

James, a forward, has the size to back down almost anyone.

By starting more of his attacks from the post, with his back to the basket, James could exert less energy than he did powering in for drives to the rim and be more selective about the shots he took. This playing style earned Olajuwon the 12th spot on the NBA’s career-scoring list.

From the post, James can better anticipate the moves of multiple defenders, watch for open passing lanes and create space for an easy shot with the threat of his drive.

Between the 2006-07 season and his first championship with the Heat in 2012, James nearly doubled his time in the post, according to Synergy Sports. Even now, as his speed and explosiveness have dipped with age, James has still been able to lean on this skill.

The 3-pointer

Early in James’ career, the 3-point shot was the glaring weakness in his game. He did not take many, and he did not make many. But, in flowing with the evolution of the league, James has more than doubled the number of 3-pointers he attempts a game since his rookie season. He is making about three times as many of them, too.

He can run hot and cold from deep, but this approach allows him to preserve his body while still scoring at a high level. According to Synergy Sports, the high-effort athletic drives that defined his early career have decreased by about one-third a game since the 2004-05 season.

When he is hitting his outside shots consistently, opponents run out of options.

His step-back 3 is devastatingly simple. It reads as slow, but defenders, well aware that he can charge into the lane, never seem to react in time. In a disorienting instant, James seems to wake up from a daydream, snapping back from a slow, methodical dribble into the smooth shooting motion that he has refined over the years.

That is his secret to being great: keeping defenders guessing. Abdul-Jabbar had a signature shot that everyone knew was coming and yet could not stop. James’ method has been different but no less successful. You never know how he is going to score on you — with a drive, a post-up or a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing step-back 3. But after 20 years and four NBA championships, you can bet he is going to get his points.

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